Saturday, November 21, 2015

Solipsism, Micromanaging the Minds & The Necessary Compromise; A Personal Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Solipsism, Micromanaging the Minds & The Necessary Compromise
A Personal Essay in Three Parts by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Part I: Solipsism in Our Time (Draft 2)
(*) Part I was published first on June 12th, 2015, at Facebook.com/PAComposer, revised under Thinking Today: Solipsism in Our Time.

Solipsism goes beyond purely intellectual pursuits as a primarily epistemological concern when one rethinks a fully "personalized" world, i.e. the increasing possibility of "invisible virtual prisons." If so, progress is stifled, as the dispersion of knowledge in respect to information, itself deemed as property, will depend less on meritorious authority and natural curiosity than on the whims and interests of real or virtual entities in control. Hence, a most crucial element of true knowledge, the humbling awareness of the unknown, can be lost to the delusional mask of absolute certainty of our knowledge. As a poet said, "Not to know, and not to know that we don't know." Contained curiosity is led to play within a predefined field, to assure safe action in a blissful state of self-satisfaction. Knowledge confined and fully individualized, renders breakthrough imagination and independent creativity some rather dim and remote possibilities.
(Revised; Original via TXT.)

Part II: Micromanaging the Minds (Draft 1)
(*) Part II was first published on June 20th, 2015, at Facebook.com/PAComposer, under Reflections on Life: Micromanaging the Minds.

I step back and feel excited again to be living in the digital age, a time of flowing information, an age that promises every individual in principle to learn what they can, and express themselves for their voice to be heard. I also pause and contemplate the dangerous possibility of the illusion of an independent mind when in fact it's been guided deliberately to conform with ideas otherwise alien to its natural life, innate interests, private processes, and reasonable conclusions.

Even as enormous amounts of data are being collected on individuals based on their online and offline activity, personal and professional, we may expect to see "prediction, projection, and suggestion" to step over into "guided, defined and predetermined destinies" to an unprecedented degree. At its absolute form, for any given person around the globe, the Web, and by extension, the World, may become as large or small as what say a robotic software would permit it to be for that person. I am reminded of the excellent "Minority Report", in which among many futuristic visions, billboards change as the character of Tom Cruise approaches them in order to fit his profile. That remote possibility is now a plausible reality. Basic filters on your digital devices or on virtual accounts, or a given tag on your physical identity, could largely open, modify, or block the total information that can reach you, thus artificially defining your environment, or rather, the extent of your knowable world. Thence, it's only natural to presume that your reflections, conclusions, and emotions, could as equally be controlled by such basic and seemingly negligible means.

I am no fool to assume myself the first person to ponder this possibility. Long before, Orwell explored a form of totalitarian manipulation of personalities in "1984". More recently, filmmakers went as far as depicting a means to control audiences literally by radiation in one Batman episode. But what I am surprised  to see is how probable such sci-fi nightmares have become, and how ironic is the situation. One aims for "independence" and "individuality" by avoiding non-selective and conformist forms of mass communication, only to become a ready candidate for a fully targeted even if well-meant stream of information. Furthermore, as I "shop", or as I "meet someone finally in person", that is, as I translate a virtual entity into a corporeal reality, the distinction between the virtual and the real begins to erode. At the end, as the data is accumulated and put to use, "happenstance" becomes less of an "accident", even if the casual chain with a "consciousness" may remain hidden to us.

Increasingly, people relate to each other via virtual means. One funny image is the sight of children and parents reaching each other at the dinner table via their smart phones. At its most extreme, it's plausible to imagine us communicate to ourselves via some digital medium, a phenomenon that shares in essence with the historic pen and paper, but differs radically in its wider degree of mediation. This alone opens the possibility to intercept the very thought process as it's taking place, and hence, to guide it by manipulating its environment to arrive at desired conclusions. It also allows for a channel to direct passive thoughts, shape interests, trigger emotions, and generate behavior otherwise alien to the gestalt of the person. It would have been comforting if scientists, philosophers, journalists, and other intellectuals, were immune to such interfering influences; but I doubt if even the most intelligent of people could be fully aware of such bias when alone in the company of their laptops.

Influence and confluence are necessity components of collective progress. The present state at its best could continue to be a unique opportunity for "synergy" among the best. Yet if it loses its liberal character, if it's guided by some "intention", the outcome would be far from what those members intended.

I began this note with an appreciation of the medium, and I end it on the same point. I only remind myself that as it was the case with any new invention, we had to learn to distinguish between its uses and abuses, and we learned to choose to benefit from its gifts rather than be harmed by its damaging consequences.

Part III: The Necessary Compromise 
(*) Part III was published first on September 28th, 2015, at Facebook.com/PAComposer, revised under A Page From My Life: The Necessary Compromise.

I was kept off of the Web for a few days too many due to technical issues. Tedious details aside, the message was clear: without the digital connection, at least in principle, I could be fully cut off from the world. Someone with just enough knowledge and access could easily detach, isolate, and demobilize me, if temporarily, but just enough to inflict potentially lasting damage. I could be rendered silent in the blink of an eye. And I live at the middle of a big city.

It is not a joke. I think of all the people scattered in the small towns and laid-out villages. How easily their environments could be shut down by accidents, if not manipulated by the most absurd of beings. One gets a new appreciation of the lives of the pioneers and frontier men and women, with their big hearts and wills. How did they keep up with the world remains a mystery. I remain aware of the potential for a "virtual cage", but I am also alarmed of the "merciless cage", beyond and in the absence of the virtual. Last window closed. Good luck Mr. Crusoe.

For now, I think I have failed badly in providing myself with general buffers and parallel solutions. That wouldn't necessarily mean more high-tech equipment. Maybe it's about time to invest in a few pigeons, a portable smoking furnace, a few loud and clear Shofars, some papyrus and clay plates, and definitely a mule, in case some day my car won't oblige, too.

(*) The above compilation in whole and in parts was an original Note.
(*) The author is a musician by inclination and education.
© 2015, Parts I, II, III, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On Bergman's "Persona" of 1966; A Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

On Bergman's "Persona" (1966)
An Essay by Payman Akhalghi (Draft 2, Extended)

(*) First published on June the 2nd, 2015, at Facebook.com/PAComposer, under Notes on Cinema: Bergman's "Persona" (1966). Draft 1 available upon request.

This past weekend, May 2015, I returned to Bergman's Persona after about ten years since my first viewing. Back then I was exploring his many films quite rapidly, quenching a long-awaited thirst, aware that I would come back to them over the years. Persona was the most different of them all: a complex non-linear narrative, deliberately fast-paced, enigmatic, intriguing, stirring. I was smitten, yet humbled, for I also couldn't say at all that "I got it" -- rather rare for me. This time around, what an utterly fulfilling experience it was. It's a strange pleasure to try and relate to, and appreciate, this film close to its own ground; although my own understanding of it will likely continue to progress and change over time, and with each new viewing, not the least due to the decided ambiguity embedded in the work.

For now, and to initiate our relation, let's emphasize its "dream logic", which reminds me most of the later film by Tarkovsky, the enigmatic auto-biographical "Mirror" (1975), as well as the many experiments in narrative and montage in several films by Godard, as well as Bunuel, among the classics. For Bergman, however, the "surface anarchy of a dream", or the visions produced in a distraught psychological state, are already organized structurally, starting with the script, followed through each move and cut, and ending on the final edit, underscored with the sound effects and the outstanding avant-garde music by Lars Johan Werle, which evokes the better known Penderecki.

I allow readily that others might have offered alternative readings of this film. For now, allow for mine: the plot does yield to a common reading -- an actress in treatment, spending time alone in a beach-house retreat, alongside a nurse. But given many cues, both verbal and visual, it also compels us to understand the story on other layers -- most saliently, to borrow from the film, the break-up of a "person" into the true "I" inside and the outward "persona", perhaps due to the shock of a loss (of the son), but furthermore, as a fundamental element taken for granted in the art of "acting". The dialectics of these two sides of a single person, the dissociation and re-composition of her character structure, is projected on the interactions of the two lead characters and into their relation to those outside their bondage -- the husband, a doctor, and the (apparently) lost son. To see the "story" as such, as an animated representation of the structure of the mind, whether healthy or in distress, and to understand this mind as being that of the leading role played by Ms. Ullmann,  allows for interpreting the interim story of the two women within a pair of large parentheses, as a prolonged dream sequence with a straightforward narrative, punctuated on several spots with decidedly symbolic dream-like interludes. Still, as the film concludes on the image of "the actress back at her job", with an expressive look reaching us through the make up, a larger encompassing parentheses is closed -- the film itself was a story, a dream, whether the dream of a woman, or a prolonged contemplation on a moment in the life and mind of an actress in her role.

Note that the verbal cues that I evidently paraphrased from the film act merely as explications to the succinct visual seeds that were already planted in the highly enigmatic and influential opening montage. Recall the scratchy footage and count down digits, which emphasize that after all, it's "a film", a means to create a "critical distance" for the audience. Remember the morgue, the lifeless bodies of the elderly, the dead adolescent boy that comes to life, reaches for an invisible wall, and lets us see what he sees: the faces of two women, that of Ms. Ullmann and Ms. Andersson, replacing each other, "morphing" into one another. What follows, in a way, is thus the world of the living from the perspective of a beloved gone too soon, yet another potent level of interpretation.

I was specially struck in this viewing by how musical is the rhythm with which the camera and the actors are choreographed. For instance, at some point, though with much fluid fluctuation, events within the shot or the cuts are triggered roughly on a basic 4-beat duration at more or less MM=c.60, an inner tempo which is largely reiterated by the regulated sound of raindrops, when Bibi Andersson's character stops to read a disturbing letter in her car. Notice that I deliberately avoid the mention of "seconds" in favor of a musical tempo, as the work relies on a more subjective sense of time than the standard clock would suggest. Other sequences, I speculate, could be measured for their inner rhythm accordingly with considrable success. The music, the score itself, often made of string chromatic clusters, dissonance contrapuntal inflections, extended glissandi, and percussive attacks, naturally responds to the director's rhythm -- unless the relation was reversed for the production, and the film was cut to the music, as say, Kubrick did to Penderecki and Bartok in The Shining.

Far from a final note on the film, this was meant as an appreciation, and as an introduction to further discussion of the film. Besides the DVD, the film is currently offered by Criterion Collection on Hulu.

© 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved. Revised.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Joan's Ageless Spirit: On Bresson's 1962 Trial of Joan of Arc; An Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Joan's Ageless Spirit: On Bresson's 1962 Trial of Joan of Arc
An Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015, Draft 2)
[A revision of this post is in preparation which will expand on some themes, and clarify certain ambiguities.]
(*) First published on Monday, May the 25th, 2015, on Facebook.com/PAComposer, under Joan's Ageless Spirit: On Bresson's 1962 Trial of Joan of Arc.

"Procés de Jeanne d'Arc"(*)
(1962, French, BW, 64 mins)
"The Trial of Joan of Arc"
Writen & Directed by Robert Bresson
Music by Francis Seyrig

It's hard to exaggerate the purity, beauty, sophisticated simplicity, and insights of  "The Trial of Joan of Arc", Robert Bresson's deliberately modest film of 1962. In straight terms, the extraordinarily powerful image that ends the movie, a prolonged meditation on the burnt stake from which the body has vanished, by itself justifies an attentive viewing of what has preceded the epilogue. Bresson, as he writes toward the beginning, attempted to approach historical veracity by relying on extant transcripts from both the trial of 1431 and the "rehabilitation" testimonies 25 years after Joan's brutal execution. He also seems to have furthered aimed for authenticity and enhanced "truth" by casting non-professionals to act in the roles. Whatever one's reserves regarding the amateur feel of inexperienced actors, at the end, one is indeed left with a striking sense of the "truth" of the events that took place centuries ago, via the eyes of the artist.

Visually, if in "Pickpocket" Bresson follows the movements of the hands -- as Dr. Babak Ahmadi noted in his 1987 book in Persian(**) -- here, beginning with the opening images, he systemically traces the movements of the feet and the legs, as a consistently recurring stylistic and conceptual element throughout. On another note, there's an emphasis on the torturous tedium of the mock trials before the bishop, yet each return to the almost same frames and positions, day after day, is uniquely enhanced by the meticulous arrangement of the tableau in the background, composed mainly of men in "white" or "dark" robes, standing still before the grey stone walls. Each body is carefully oriented, and each look in the eye is directed to maximize the composition. Expressions, whether subdued or fluidly projected, remain unique and honest to most each face of the characters.

Aurally, the mob outside is primarily suggested by off-screen crowd noise and occasional shouts; while the distinction between English and French is used to enhance the political complexity of Joan's perilous situation. Dramatically, the dangers of the proceedings are often framed in very few words in scenes that punctuate the many appearances before the judges. Musically, the minimal use of tenor drum rolls and an occasional brass melody, scant and rare, has further underscored the cold solitude of the atmosphere, while the instrumentation suggests the militarist shadow that looms over and drives a quasi-ideological interrogation.

Bresson's vision of the tragedy unfolds in no sentimental or demagogic terms. This is a solemn reflection on not only a catastrophic moment and unspeakable cruelty in social history, but on the timeless fragility of innocence and freedom of thought in the face of powers far greater than an individual, which are yet threatened by her mere dissent at their foundation. The director's screenplay and presentation, with their recurring scenes and extended conclusion, read as a poem with refrains, while the tranquil tone of this realization renders the impact of the tragedy the more chilling and lasting on the audience. Furthermore, admitting a musician's bias, one can't help notice the decided resemblance of the structure of the screenplay to a "theme and variation" form, with a prelude (the recitation of Joan's mother's letter in her defense), the theme and progressive rondo variations (several appearances before the interrogators, followed by images of her solitude), codettas (the closing remarks for each scene) and a coda (the walk and the execution). As such, I find the film highly poetic and deeply musical.

In conclusion, we would be wrong, regardless of our ideological positions or creeds, to impose our hard-earned contemporary views about "religious vision or inspiration" on the story off Joan of Arc, if we could imagine for a moment that she did not suffer for them as horribly as she did. It would be equally wrong to take our heartfelt interest in her story as an approval of the content of her beliefs, as if to unearth and relive by some medieval worldview.

To be sure, on a larger scale, one may read Joan's tragedy in terms of naive religious superstition, psychological anomalies, or innocent if stubborn fanaticism, on the one hand, against a tremendously cruel and dogmatic religious, political and economic hypocrisy, which claims to unravel the falsehood of her claims, on the other. But that would be to miss and misunderstand the timeless dramatic, philosophical, and intellectual import of the story, and to reduce it unjustly within some accepted stereotypes. Here's a 19-year old young woman, who stands for what she believes in, who's pressured to recant her position by a powerful hypocrisy that allows her no room in the world, and who suffers immeasurable cruelty for her persistence and innocence. That alone far overshadows even the religious and patriotic militant side to her life that precedes the trial. Hers is a suffering empathized virtually by everyone.

Thence, Joan's story especially as told by Bresson maintains a broad appeal as much to the faithful as to the secular and to the atheist. Read whichever way, there's not doubt about the religio-political officials as the heavies of the story. From the standpoint of individual judgment, conscience, self-esteem, human dignity, and basic liberties, among the necessary components of our ethical existence, the content of Joan's beliefs, whether "right or wrong", whether  "true or false" in our eyes, take a far less significant position than her honest insistence on the truth of what she believes in. Hence, surface differences disappear, and her story emerges to share in essence with those of Socrates, Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Spinoza, Robert Bolt's vision of Sir Thomas More, and every other thinker and visionary who was once pressed to deny their conscience, and who became a victim of ideological, religious, and political persecution. And there lies the secret of Joan's ageless spirit.

(*) The film is currently made available on Hulu by the Criterion Collection.
(**) The title of the book referenced may be translated as "The Wind Blows Wherever It Wishes" (1st ed.), Ahmadi, Dr. Babak; Persian, Tehran, ca. 1987.

© 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Raccoon On the Street: A Poem by Payman Akhalghi (2015)

Sunset at Santa Monica Pier, No.2
April 26, 2015, 19:45
© 2015, Original and Digitally Modified
Versions by  Payman Akhlaghi.
The Raccoon On the Street
A Poem by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on May the 7th, 2015, under The Raccoon On the Street: A Poem by Payman Akhlaghi.

The moonlight flows
On the pitched roads,
When a hunched silhouette,
Tugging his thick fluffy tail,
Scuttles the sidewalk,
Pauses to examine the risks,
Scurries, ever cautious,
Across the four-lane void
Of Western at the 6th.

The lonely raccoon on the street,
Wanders the dormant wilderness
Of a quiet urban night.
How well he acquired
The ways of the city!
How well he knows
His way about the town!
Has he seen the forest,
What lay on the outside
Of the bustling metropolis?

The lonely raccoon,
Though familiar,
Ever the stranger,
Knows comfort not, but he
Knows fear, for he stares,
Knows hunger, for he scours,
Knows hope, for he lives.

Far from the sung of
The uncertain woods,
He has adopted
The smog and the trash,
The cement and the honks,
The poles and the trees,
As home away from home,
Tying all hopes, fate, trust,
To the scattered kindness
Of random strangers,
To the gentle caress of
The cool midnight breeze...

© 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Polymeters & Polyrhythms: An Analytic Musical Approach; 2015, Payman Akhlaghi

Polymeters & Polyrhythms: An Analytic Musical Approach
An Original Post by Payman Akhlaghi
© 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) The present post is meant as an illustrated work in progress. New ratios will be prepared and added over time. They constitute the core of a lecture presentation.
(*) The first three images were published for the first time at the following sites:
Facebook.com/PAComposer, and  My Public Page on Facebook.


4:3 & 3:4
Click on image for larger view.
5:6
Click on image for larger view.












7:6
Click on image for larger view.


(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Karol Szymanowski, Love Songs, and Hafez; A Note on Music by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Szymanowski, Love Songs, and Hafez 
A Note on Music by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 3)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 19th, 2015, under Memo on Music: Szymanowski, Love Songs, and Hafez.

For long, I have heard about Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), the Polish composer of the first order, far more than I have heard him. Polish-born American pianist Arthur Rubinstein in his biography referred to him as one of his favorite composers. One of my own professors considers him "Scriabin, Part 2". I understand that for his compatriots, he's been the true heir to Chopin at least in historical, nationalistic and cultural terms. I still wish to find the opportunity and give him my undivided attention. For now, I won't miss chance encounters.

The other night (01.17.2015), thanks to Mr. Alan Chapman of KUSC, I learned of Szymanowski's Op. 31, "Songs of a Fairy Tale Princess", the three of which were orchestrated by the composer himself. In their melodic, harmonic and timbral sensitivity, they struck me as the precursors of Lutoslawski's "Chantefleurs et Chantefables", also Polish, which I had the pleasure of hearing live a few years ago. Following up, I learned that Szymanowski's song cycles Opp. 24 and 26 were musical settings of "Love Poems of Hafiz", as much of them as had arrived in Polish, apparently from a German translation based on Arabic texts. I decided that my hitherto scant knowledge of his music shouldn't hold me back from at the least introducing them on my personal page. I don't know the words, but starting with the orchestral versions of Op. 26, they sound remarkable, evocative, and beautiful. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I do.
-- Payman Akhlaghi

References:
(*) Szymanowski, Love Songs of Hafiz, Op. 26, for Voice and Orchestra
- Part 1 of 2:
- Part 2 of 2:
(*) Szymanowski, Love Songs of Hafiz Op. 24, for voice and piano:
(*) Szymanowski, Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess, Op. 31, Nos. 1-3, orchestrated by the composer:

P.S. 01.20.2015.
I learned from Wikipedia, Works of Szymanowski, that Op. 26, for voice and orchestra, Nos. 6-7-8, are orchestral settings of 3 from Op. 24, which had been for voice and piano. The orchestral links above to Op. 26, however, start out with No.1 of Op. 24, "Desires" (normally, No. 6 of Op. 26), and end with No. 1 of 26, "The Tomb of Hafez", which does make more sense to me. So far, I have seen a partial score of the Op. 26 on IMSLP, the piano reduction, which bears a Posthumous (after death) notice. It's rather confusing; and the performers might have swapped things around, for the recording, in good taste. Just enjoy the music. -- P.A.

-- © 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Two Snippets on Film: Rossellini's "Stromboli" and Wenders's "Alice in the Cities"; Reviews by Payman Akhalghi (2015)

Rossellini's "Stromboli" and Wenders's "Alice in the Cities"
A Note on Cinema by Payman Akhalghi (Draft 7; Revised)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 18th, 2015, under Memo on Cinema: Rossellini's "Stromboli" and Wenders's "Alice in the Cities.

1) "Stromboli: Terra di Dio" (1950, 94 mins, Italian), directed by Roberto Rossellini, with music by his brother Renzo, and featuring his wife, Ingrid Bergman, whose skill and presence combines with, and rises above, an attractive, ubiquitous, but at times overbearing orchestral score. That is not to undermine the music, which from the opening frames sets an epic tone for the drama, even for its private side, and often succeeds in delineating the psychological turmoils of an expressive face in her silence and loneliness. The music of Stromboli thus acts as a character in itself, asserting its presence operatically, sometimes as the narrator, at other times as the narrative of a soul, but mostly as the voice of an ever-present colossal background, the earth, the ocean, the mountains, a volcano about to erupt, an awesome nature at large, and the harsh destiny that ensues.

The last 35 mins of the film, composed of three major sequences, a massive fishing episode, a volcanic eruption, and an escape alone through a smoking mountain, is riveting, It reminds me of "Man of Aran", charged with a convincing drama about the traps of unhappy marriage and cultural contrasts, combined with a touch of spirituality or religion in the face of nature's massive wrath, or rather, under the burdens of life. Be warned that animals are actually harmed during the fishing sequence shot in a documentary style.

2) "Alice in the Cities" (1974, about 110 mins, German) is directed by Wim Wenders. It's a rare study and an alarming appreciation of the fragile fate of children in modern urban life of the 70's. It's also a refreshing example of an almost paternal and utterly decent love and protection afforded to a child by a non-father. The film goes to show that about 10 years before "Wings of Desire", the director had already much mastered his craft, and had surely found his favorite topic: a dramatic narrative as much served by rapidly changing locations as it's serving them, in this case, American landscape, New York, Amsterdam, and several cities in Germany. Knowing that Wings of Desire originated as a film about the city of Berlin, I wonder if the trip itself was not the main reason for this earlier film, as well. In retrospect, I'm inclined to think that "Paris, Texas" of 1984 somewhat appears as a sequel to Alice.

(*) "Stromboli" is distributed by the Criterion Collection. Both films currently available on Hulu.

© 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. This is an original memo. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Film Review: Jean Renoir's "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (1932); An Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Memo on Cinema: "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (Jean Renoir, 1932)
An Essay By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 3)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 15th, 2015, under Memo on Cinema: "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (Jean Renoir, 1932).

Jean Renoir was a master of character study and human nature, but in particular, an expert in the finest nuances of the aristocracy and the rising bourgeoisie, their contradictions, mores, and morals -- as a single viewing of his 1932 film "Boudu Saved From Drowning"  would attest. (Boudu sauvé des eaux; French; ca. 85 mins.) The precision of his behavioral observations and the succinctness of his language could rival those of Hitchcock and Fritz Lang; the fluidity of his character development and final rendition might at times surpass them both.

Five years before "The Grand Illusion" and seven years before "Rules of the Game", "Boudu..." bears for me many elements of Renoir's mature style: a smoothly developing script, in this case adapted from a play; a delicate balance between the words and images, with traces of both the theater and the silent film vocabulary; the seeds of his later "montage within the frame" via the performance, with minimal or no camera movements; experiments with montage and perspective(§);  the casual lingering of the words and action into a fade out to end a scene, a unique touch of this director; subtlety and sophistication of the humor; a rather straightforward sexuality depicted with self-restraint; and a fine ear for the music, mostly diegetic (source music) -- whether it's an orchestral song to set the tone of the film over the opening credits (non-diegetic), or a solo flute played by a neighbor, a piano played by amateur fingers, a street organ played on the pavement, a marching band gathered on the street, or an ensemble in the park, playing an arrangement of the Blue Danube Waltz toward the end of the film.(±)

Thematically, the farce develops out of a psychological study of a small middle-class family cell, whose feeble order is disturbed when they save and adopt a desperate homeless man with badly underdeveloped mind and manners. It's clear, however, that the setting is meant as a microcosm of the contemporary society at large. And yet, a short enigmatic prelude introduced by the card "Boudu" offers more interpretive possibilities, as it blurs established class and persona distinctions to reveal the underlying natures of the personalities that are likely hidden to themselves.

The prelude is a theatrical silent scene of love between Lestingois and his maid, dressed in a mythological costumes -- a Faun and a Nymph -- which then dissolves into a confession of the love affair between the married shopkeeper and the maid, in their modern settings. The strong association of the mythological element with the sound of flute -- a probable reference to Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" -- is consistently reminded throughout the film as a neighbor practices his instrument at various hours. It's safe to presume that Boudu -- likely short for "bon dieu!", i.e. "good God!" -- notwithstanding their many differences, is offered as the untamed, unrefined, uncultured aspect of Lestingois, that is, his suppressed libidinous Id, which for awhile comes to the surface of his conscious life and personality to stir and reinvigorate a long settled ennui. At the same time, on the macro level, the solidity of the line drawn between the bourgeoisie and lower classes is brought into question.

Through the laughs, sympathetic sighs, and its many surprises, we may ask whether human nature is indeed more malleable or flexible than suggested by the surface of the story; or that Renoir and his playwright René Fauchois are right in their elitist aristocratic judgment of the classes, and personas; that a "bum" with fine clothes and a bulk of money is still a "bum" -- or that at the least, his old habits may die hard; that the bourgeoisie of the time, as genuinely kind and cultured as they come in the film, suffered from a hypocrisy rooted in values, norms and habits which contradicted the human nature, and at any rate, their social setting. Whatever our answers, they won't take away from the convincing and coherent drama at hand; from its deep optimism about, human goodness, innocence, and naivete; and from its appreciation of the more fundamental elements of human condition.

(§) I cite two salient examples of such early experiments with montage. Lestingois first spots Boudu about to commit suicide via a telescope he usually holds to peep on women from the window of his house. The camera pans and follows Boudu from afar until he jumps off of the bridge. The sense of distance from the action intensifies Lesingois's desire to help and foments the ensuing bond between the two men more convincingly.

Second, a carefully planned scene warrants attention (ca. min. 38), when a track shot follows the maid from the breakfast table toward the kitchen. We follow her afar from the other wing of the house, and we approach her through an opposing window across the patio. The camera then jumps to behind her, as she calls out to a neighbor on the ground for a match box. Instead of a now customary subjective view shot, we jump downstairs to see the elderly neighbor through a window, looking up at the maid, but in the wrong direction, left to right. Thus, an otherwise most clear definition of the spatial relations of the house is summarily disrupted; and this author finds the disorientation too curious and interesting to dismiss it as a mere slip by the master filmmaker.

(±) The music is credited as follows:
Générique, Danube bleu, Fin: Rafaël; Flute: J. Bouze; Orphéon: Edouard Dumoulin.

(*) "Boudu Saved From Drowning" is released by the Criterion Collection, and it's currently available on Hulu.
(*) Some dates, names and titles were checked against IMDB and Wikipedia.
(*) The author is a musician by inclination and education.
(*) The above was an original commentary.
(*) On my weblog:
http://pardessrimonim.blogspot.com/2015/01/film-review-jean-renoirs-boudu-saved.html

© 2015, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Freedom of Expression, Means and Context; A Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Memo: Freedom of Expression, Means and Context
An Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on 01.09.2015 under Memo: Freedom of Expression, Means and Context.

Freedom of expression is not only about being free to express myself, but also about the means of expression, the subjective truth of the expression, the context of expression, and to the extent possible, the foreseeable contingencies of its interpretation. It's about saying -- writing, drawing, singing, making, presenting, posting, commenting, behaving, etc. -- what and how I wish to, freely, honestly, clearly, with my audience in mind, and without hindering the freedom of others to do the same.

As such, freedom of expression starts with life and continues to reinforce its flourishing. Freedom of expression would be self-negating if your expression prevents his or her fair chance of expressing themselves. Censor on the one hand, and violent response on the other, in their various forms and degrees, are the two extremes of violations of the freedom of expression. Censor can find many forms: a crowd mobilized to intimidate, ostracize, and silence a voice; a regulation, almost invariably arbitrary, to strain the freedoms of authors, artists, thinkers, scientists, scholars, or any other civil person for that matter, in freely expressing themselves in their non-aggressive means; imposing the wills of a tyrannical oppression; aggressive and intrusive means of expression that would deprive others of their chances to express themselves, or to exercise their right to refuse; bullying; vandalism; and that extreme and primitive form of response, that is, acts of violence and savagery against the persons expressing themselves. The list continues.

Freedom of expression is about carrying out a civil conversation on both the small and large scales without resorting to fists and clubs to settle the arguments. To that end, you don't need to agree with what's being said; but you can neither censor, nor intimidate, nor bring harm to others, because of your disagreement. And as the countless lonely voices through history have proven time after time, this is one place where "the wisdom of the crowd" does not apply, for too often it has been that very single voice that would prove to be right, though often after a long while.

(*) I was ruminating, and enumerating, the above points especially for the past few days, when I came across the following timely, erudite, comprehensive, and fairly argued recent column by Mr. Albert Brooks of NY Times. I naturally share several of his convictions; and reading it further helped focus this essay, particularly in regards to the element of context.
"I Am Not Charlie Hebdo", Albert Brooks, 01.08.2015, nytimes.com.


© 2015, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On Film, Humor and Freedom of Expression: "Zéro de Conduite" (1933); An Original Memo by Payman Akhalghi (2015)

Memo on Cinema: "Zéro de Conduite"
(Zero for Conduct, French, 1933)
On Film, Humor and Freedom of Expression
By Payman Akhalghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 7th, 2015, under Memo on Cinema: "Zéro de Conduite" (French, 1933).

Hannah Arendt said it best that, the surest way to undermine authority was laughter,[1] -- and who would know that better than the tyrant himself?

Thanks to Claudia Gorbman [2], I learned of a short 1933 French film, which I managed to see a few nights ago. Briefly put, "Zero for Conduct", directed by Jean Vigo, with music by Maurice Jaubert, is about a boarding school, its strict discipline, and the young students' growing defiance of it. It's a succinct and deeply poetic study of the impact of power and our natural desire for freedom that was made right between the two world wars. It's a microcosm of some larger social processes -- strict environments, rebellion, anarchy, tolerance, change -- and yet, in its method, and in its totality, about the joys of life, sympathy, and the power of humor. At the end, it's about childhood, and about the children in all of us. It's a delicious gem of the early cinema, a small film about the big picture.

The film was focused on extensively for its music by Ms. Gorbman in her book. I share it however for both the film, and the music.



(Zero for Conduct: Little Devils at School)
(French, 1933, ca. 41 mins)
Directed by Jean Vigo; Music by Maurice Jaubert 

[1] "To remain in authority requires respect for the person or the office. The greatest enemy of authority, therefore, is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter." -- Hannah Arendt, "On Violence", 1969.

[2] "Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music", Claudia Gorbman, 1987. I specially thank Prof. Robert Fink of UCLA for introducing me to the book, which further informed my doctorate studies. [Currently ABD] The book has remained surprisingly out of print. (Sic!)

(*) Two of my earlier original posts on humor and freedom of expression:

- Song of Songs vs. Marriage of Figaro: An Original Essay by Payman Akhalghi.
- Freedom of Expression in Films: A short list with my original commentary, on Facebook.

© 2015, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Beethoven Virus (2008): Classical Music in TV Dramas; TV Film Review by Payman Akhalghi (2015)

"Beethoven Virus" (2008): Classical Music in TV Dramas
Film & TV Review by Payman Akhalghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published as a FotoNote at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 5th, 2015, under "Memo: "Beethoven Virus" & Classical Music in TV Dramas

It's a delight to come across a popular TV production wherein human decency, sophisticated arguments, beautiful sentiments, culture, and striving for excellence, are intrinsic to its themes, and are consistently interwoven into its fabric. It would be a rare delight if this production were a series that revolved around a group of classical musicians, their personal, professional and social lives, who tried their best to make and share music in a small aspiring city. "Beethoven Virus", a 2008 South Korean melodrama in 18 episodes, is often such a rare delight, even as this author does not know the language and had to rely on the subtitles.(*)

The many merits of "Beethoven Virus" may easily convince the viewer overlook its many typecasts and overworked dramatic formulae, rather typical of the genre at large. The musical information is precise, down to the detail, suggesting serious "insider" involvement at the core of the production. The soundtrack is satisfying, the more so, because of the evident budgetary limitations. Despite all odds, the main theme of the series, with its touching romantic spirit, succeeds to withstand the many excellent classical excerpts.

The cast is often young, attractive, and clearly skilled in music. A love of high culture permeates its often modest air. At its best moments, emotional tension systemically avoids degrading into banal resolutions, and the anguish that the central characters endure in their relations, deemed and understood as the inevitable price of their truth, comes across as convincing. The myths and spirits of classical figures, from composers Beethoven and Mozart, to conductors Kleiber and Celibidache, have informed many facets of the drama, characters, their persona, attitudes and behavior. Yet, in its affection for art music, but also in its desire to reach the larger population, through the everyday language and the humane touch of its characters, with their virtues and modest vices, in their strengths and weaknesses, the series has further the viable potential to indeed encourage its audience to appreciate, support, even pursue high music.

To conclude, as a popular TV series, "Beethoven Virus" surely deserves to benefit from the impeccable technical sophistication of a Hollywood production in an English adaptation, which I am inclined to believe will prove more plausible than it might appear at this moment.

(*) The series distributed by MBC, is currently offered on Hulu.com.
(*) Photo: The promotional cover of the DVD, available on the Internet.

© 2015, Original Review by Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.